AMES MODEL 1841 U.S. NAVAL CUTLASS DATED 1842: FIRST YEAR OF PRODUCTION; FIRST CONTRACT

$750.00 SOLD

Quantity Available: None

Item Code: 2024-01

The 1841 U.S. Navy cutlass is scarce. Only 6,600 of them were made from 1842 through 1846. Ames sent three cutlasses of slightly different configuration to the Board of Naval Ordnance in November 1841. The Navy selected this pattern and a contract for 3,000 was signed late in 1841 or very early in 1842, with delivery of the first 500 made in March 1842, another 1,000 by May, and the remaining 1,500 before the end of the year.

Ames based his pattern on the M1832/3 army short sword. Both have short, wide, straight, double-edged blades with slight wasp waist and the grips and pommels use the same or a similar mold: the grip has scales (or feathers in some interpretations) and is secured by three rivets, and the pommel is cast with an eagle on either side. The cutlass blade differs, however, in having a median ridge without fullers and the guard offers greater protection to the hand, using knuckleguard formed from a flat piece of brass with reinforced edge, descending from the pommel and widening to form a counterguard around the blade with a quillon terminating in a disk. They were formidable weapons intended not only for hand-to-hand combat, but the necessary preliminary of cutting through enemy anti-boarding nets just to get to close quarters in boarding an enemy vessel.

These usually show long and hard shipboard use. This one rates excellent for condition, with both hilt and blade showing smooth metal, bright, but not recently cleaned, and showing very good detail to the eagle on both sides of the pommel, the grip, blade markings and rack number on the guard. The pommel has a smooth peen to the blade tang. The detail of the eagle on both sides of the pommel is very good. The grip scales (or feathers) preserve very good detail with just some small pitting at the bottom of the grip near the guard. The inside of the reverse counterguard has been stamped with a small Roman numeral “XXVII” using a small chisel or similar tool to make the numerals, clearly a rack number. Idle time on shipboard was often used in cleaning arms, but this seems to have been carefully done, with neither the cast and chased elements of the hilt or the rack number softened. We notice some fine striations on the underside of the counterguard, either from a cleaning or the original final finishing.

The blade has a good edge and point, a muted, silver gray in color showing only a few very thin gray spots and some shallow salt-and-peppering, or “freckling” here and there, a few fine lines from cleaning at some point, but no sharpening. The obverse ricasso is crisply stamped in small block letters, “N.P. AMES / CABOTVILLE / MASS.” This is in line with the blade and upside down. The stamping is very clear, with just slight rubbing along the bottom edge of the bottom line. The reverse is stamped “U.S.N / 1842,” also in very clear lettering, in line with the blade, though right side up. As Kevin Hoffman noted in his Swords of Regulation and Honor, these early M1841 cutlasses bear no inspector marks on the blade or the hilt (on later production inspector initial appear on the quillon disk- these show no sign of ever being marked.) We also note later production seems to omit the state designation, and also shifts to “Springfield.”

The navy was active in the Mexican War not only on blockading duty, but in amphibious operations in California and the Gulf of Mexico, and on land as well, most notably at Vera Cruz, where it not only landed a large army force, but erected and manned a naval gun battery on shore that took part in the bombardment of the city. When the Civil War broke out, the navy had to expand quickly to blockade the coast and control the rivers. A new pattern of cutlass, contracted for in May 1861 began to arrive in June, but older cutlasses were called back into service, making them veterans of two wars and more than twenty years’ service.

This is a very good example of a scarce USN regulation cutlass, with an early date, rack number indicating actual issue, but nevertheless is unusually good condition.  [sr][ph:L]

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